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Gladstone girls rally around ailing teammate

Senior and team member Marissa Huddleston was diagnosed with leukemia; fund raisers are scheduled
by: Ellen Spitaleri, Gladstone senior Marissa Huddleston, left, with coach Denise Harris, holding the fourth place trophy the Gladstone dance team won this month. Huddleston was recently diagnosed with leukemia, and her teammates and friends are working to raise funds to cover her medical expenses.

It was good news-bad news for the Gladstone dance team during the recent 2008 dance/drill state championships.

The good news: dance team coach Denise Harris was named coach of the year; three girls, Gillian Burke, Marissa Huddleston and Gabby Love were named to the 1A-4A all-state dance team; three girls, Huddleston, Savannah Giese and Michelle Eichorn, were in the top six drill down winners; and the entire team placed fourth in the 4A dance team competition.

The bad news is very, very bad: On March 12, Huddleston was diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenouse Leukemia (CML).

The year has been a tough one for the senior. 'An intense hip injury' forced her to drop out of the team's state routine, and she had been feeling ill for some time.

Her physical therapist 'noticed some bruising,' and advised her to get that checked out. After a blood test, her doctor called her and said her 'white blood cell count was crazy,' Huddleston said.

A bone marrow test confirmed she had leukemia, and Huddleston is now facing chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.

Harris said all five members of Huddleston's family are undergoing tests to see if they can be bone marrow donors, but it costs $2,000 per test, and the family isn't sure if insurance will be cover the costs.

Fundraisers set up

Harris said there are collection jars in every classroom at Gladstone High School, and people are able to send checks to the school in Huddleston's name.

Amanda Tracy, a senior at GHS, has put together a fundraiser at Pizza Schmizza where she works. On the evening of March 31, the pizza place on S.E. McLoughlin near Fred Meyer will donate 35 percent of profits to Huddleston's family.

'Everything depends on the transplant,' Huddleston said, noting that she hopes to start college in the fall as planned, close to home at Clackamas Community College.

She is undergoing chemotherapy at Legacy Emmanuel Hospital, but the transplant will be at Doernbecher Children's Hospital.

When her treatment is over, Huddleston said she plans to volunteer at Doernbecher, where she said, 'The kids will teach me so much.'

Huddleston has started a blog at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/marissahuddleston. Harris encourages people to visit the blog and sign the guest book; visitors can also make donations at that site.

Coach, teams do well

As for the good news, Harris said winning coach of the year is 'as close as I'll ever know how it feels to win an Oscar.'

Coaches are nominated by three of their peers in the Dance Drill Coaches Association, and then the entire membership votes to choose the winner.

Harris, who has coached at GHS for 11 years, said, 'It's a big honor, and a night I'll never forget.'

The three girls who made the 1A-4A all state dance team learned a routine when they tried out in January, Huddleston said, and then found out the first night of state that they had been selected to the team.

'We performed the routine the second night of state,' Huddleston said, and Harris said the girls 'looked great.'

As for the drill down competition, each school in 1A through 4A could send their best eight girls, so there were 'maybe 240 kids,' Harris said.

A drill down, Huddleston explained, is where all those who are trying out assemble on the gym floor, and a caller calls out 'military commands, like about face and march. If you do a wrong command, you fall out or get pulled out, until the top six are left.'

Then the top six go through the same process, and as each girl drops out she is named sixth place, fifth place and so on, until one girl is named the overall winner.

Huddleston placed third, Giese was fourth and Eichorn was sixth.

The Gladstone dance team actually tied with Marist for third, but when it came down to total points Marist had 39.10 and Gladstone had 39.08, Harris said.

The theme of the state routine was 'Who Am I?' and Harris said she thought it was an 'appropriate theme for teen girls,' and added that it was 'a sweet, moving little piece.'

Although Huddleston had to take herself out of the final routine, she watched from the sidelines, and said, 'At state they finally danced as a team - they got that it was just about the team. They were happy with themselves, and I was really happy for them.'